Note: The film review is based on the Japanese version, not the 10-minute shorter American edit also included on the DVD.
While Mothra opens with a disaster at sea — one of the hallmarks of giant monster movies in general — the rest of the film is anything but a disaster. Mothra is a monster with a purpose, not one destined to wreak havoc on a Japanese city simply because she exists.
She is fighting greed, determined to find two twin fairies that are shamelessly used for profits by a greedy businessman, Clark Nelson (Jerry Ito). The film barely disguises the fictional country of Rolisica as America, and New Kirk City as New York. This is one of the few Toho giant monster films to break out of Japan, and the results are spectacular.
Director Ishiro Honda inserts his usual nuclear parable as well, detailing the tragedy that nuclear testing has befallen the small Infant Island. This is Mothra’s home, yet the bomb is never linked to the cause of Mothra’s creation. She is home on the island where her legend began. Only the native twin fairies can call for her.
Mothra is quickly paced, establishing a key character played by comedian Frankie Sakai in his only kaiju film role. He fits well despite the goofy charm, playing a character who has fun, but who also is a hero. He rescues a baby from the path of destruction created by Mothra, and is part of the plan to save New Kirk City from being completely decimated.
Eiji Tsubaraya’s visual effects are stunning here, not to mention gutsy. Close-ups and high-angle shots are not only complex but risky. These are the shots typically avoided for fear the miniatures will appear obvious. That’s not the case here, though, as Mothra begins her rampage in larvae form and the camera pans over the top as she marches forward.
Tsubaraya was also a master of wind effects, and Mothra’s wings provide. Buildings tear, cars flip, and windows shatter as she flies overhead searching for the fairies. Nelson’s greed reaches a breaking point, the stress of what he has caused becomes too much to bear. It creates a tense finale as the camera cuts between Mothra’s attack and Nelson’s attempted escape.
Mothra is not killed in the end, a rarity in Japanese monster films which love to showcase the ingenuity of the Japanese scientists. In fact, the Japanese do not even develop a weapon to defeat her. The Roliscian’s provide heat rays, which only serve to cause the creature to exit her metamorphosis inside the cocoon.
She is invincible, although not simply because she is a giant monster, but more of a legendary god. She cannot be stopped until the greed that has caused her home to become distressed has been vanquished. Mothra is more of a parable than a giant monster, and a spectacular film spectacle.
Mothra has underwent the same restoration process as the other films in this Toho Icons DVD box set, and the results are similar. Colors have been saturated, causing some bleeding of blue and red shades. Flesh tones carry a red tint, although it is more natural than those in The H-Man. Blacks are rich, but cause sporadic crush. Minor ringing is evident throughout.
The grain is intact, although it appears noisy when a white background dominates. Artifacting can deliver a slightly muddy picture, at its worst during an early fly-by of shipwrecked survivors on Infant Island. It is hard to see what the shot is supposed to be. Still, compared to the flat and faded Region 2 Toho disc, this is an improvement in almost all aspects.
Audio is muffled but decently mixed to capture both the sound effects and the unique Yuji Koseki score (his only kaiju score). Dialogue is strained but free of imperfections. The weird, unexplained sound the twins emit when they are first discovered is especially annoying here with the age of the track further distorting it.
Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski provide a commentary track for the US version, and are as detail-oriented as they’ve ever been. Some of this information is redundant if you’ve ever listened to their previous discussions, but it still carries plenty of Mothra facts.
Mothra was released to VHS once, before falling into obscurity. This is the first time the Japanese version has been available in the US. It comes in a three-pack along with H-Man and Battle in Outer Space. Note the terrible packaging which crams three discs onto a single spindle, providing plenty of opportunity to crack them.